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Incident Prevention Magazine

Eric M. Fell

Working in Switchgear Cubicles Just Got Safer


All of us who work with electricity know how hazardous it can be. During a stint with my previous employer, a co-worker and good friend was electrocuted and killed when he made contact with energized switchgear components. Another co-worker at the company also was seriously injured. Safety is always a part of our job; it’s something we talk about and practice every day, but given what happened to my two former co-workers, I felt that more needed to be done to establish a zero-accident workplace – more than just job briefings, using human performance tools and “living safely.” When it came to working with switchgear, it was necessary to develop a tangible safety device that could be paired with work practice improvements.

Several years later, after starting my current employment at Con Edison – a regulated utility that provides electric, gas and steam service to customers in New York City and suburban Westchester County – a simple request to pursue a solution prompted an effort to reform switchgear work practices. The result has made those practices both safer and more efficient – not just at Con Edison, but potentially for the industry.

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Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP

The Hierarchy of Incidents and Learning: Part I


You just want to do the job right and go home unharmed today, but things don’t always go as planned, incidents happen, and the lessons your team learns don’t always change the way you’ll do the job tomorrow. This can leave you feeling frustrated and helpless to improve the things that keep your team from reaching its full potential.

You deserve a framework that allows you to continuously improve your operations and team morale. In this two-part article, we’ll use the hierarchy of incidents and learning to identify and rank the different parts of an incident. As we work through all six levels of the hierarchy – the first three in this article and the next three in the follow-up article – we’ll discuss things you and your team members can do to support a continuous growth mindset. The ultimate goal of all this is to learn and improve so that we can identify and mitigate the potential for error as soon as possible and reduce the impact of incidents on our people, projects, company and customers. 

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Jim Martin, CRSP, CUSP, CCPE

Human Error and Organizational Resilience


From 1980 through 2010, safety performance emphasis was on accident prevention through the application of controls. We learned about the hierarchy of controls (elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls and personal protective equipment) and the multiple barrier principle (use several controls in case one or two fail so there will always be something to protect you). The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations has defined “defense in depth” as “the overlapping capacity of various defenses to protect personnel and equipment from human error. If a failure occurs with one defense, another will compensate for that failure, thereby preventing harm. The four lines of defense – engineered, administrative, cultural, and oversight controls – should work together to anticipate, prevent, or catch active errors before suffering a significant event.” This thinking took us a long way in improving safety, and most companies experienced significant reductions in incident rates, severe accidents and fatalities.

During that period of time, and due to that success, most utility companies started to target zero injuries as part of their safety performance improvement programs. This led to an almost exclusive focus on a single number: the all injury rate or the total recordable injury rate. The result was that companies were able to achieve rates of less than 1.0 (one injury per 200,000 hours worked), which, in turn, led to the belief that they were ultra-safe organizations where nothing really bad could happen. But history has demonstrated that, even in those high-performing organizations, disasters and fatalities can and do still occur. As James Reason taught us in the 1990s through his Swiss cheese model, even multiple barriers can fail under the wrong circumstances, leading to accidents and loss.

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Luis Ortega, CUSP

Take Your Time and Follow the Rules – Or Pay the Price


The last time we met Bob the foreman and his crew, they saved the day when a vehicle hit a utility pole on a busy roadway in Safety County, New York (see

These days, Bob and his crew are still in action, working for Sunshine Electric Co. At Sunshine, following company safety rules and industry best practices is as normal as breathing air. On this particular day, we find Bob prioritizing the unending string of planned field work assigned to his crew. His first priority for Sunshine’s customers is the list of new services and reliability jobs. As a supervisor, he also has priorities for the safety of his crew. But that’s not all. Because of his training, he knows that safety compliance to protect his employer is another one of his responsibilities as a supervisor. That is a lot of responsibility, but Bob and his crew were safely trained by Sunshine, and Bob has communicated his expectations to the crew for their safety.

Bob selects a job from the list that involves installing a new transformer on a replacement pole. The existing pole is too short to accommodate the additional facilities that must be attached, including the new transformer to feed a customer’s premises. A new, taller pole must be installed. Bob gathers his crew and explains what the job is all about. He then releases the paperwork so that the linemen can gather the new pole and all the other materials necessary for the job. He will meet them on-site in a little bit.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Train the Trainer 101: The ABCs of Grounding Mobile Equipment

Across our industry, I have found all kinds of policies for grounding trucks. I also have found that in many cases, employers’ rules for grounding trucks are not based on OSHA requirements and – even more concerning – are not based on sound principles of protection. I believe the grounding policies are well intentioned, but they fail to achieve two important goals: (1) meeting the OSHA standard and (2) protecting workers where electrical contact hazards exist. So, let’s take an ABCs approach to the issue because even though some detailed explanation is required, it really is that simple.

A Defensible Plan
You must be able to defend your plan or policy. This is the case for every plan or policy. Defense is built around establishing and accomplishing a goal, understanding the hazard, understanding the mitigation of the hazard, training at-risk employees, and conducting periodic audits to ensure the plan or policy is properly employed.

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Danny Raines, CUSP

Voice of Experience: The Need for Seasoned Industry Trainers

Providing accurate, effective training to workers is one of the electric utility industry’s most pressing challenges. From my perspective, there are not enough appropriately qualified trainers to fill the open jobs available. As our industry’s attrition rate continues to increase, will we be able to provide the right training to new and existing employees? Each day, there are lineworkers being given work to do for which they are not adequately trained, endangering them and their co-workers. We need trainers to help correct this problem so that fewer lineworkers are hurt on the job.

I mentioned that our industry has a shortage of “appropriately qualified” trainers. There certainly are a number of individuals working for utilities and contractors who hold positions that have the word “training” or “trainer” in the title. But some of those individuals are newer lineworkers with limited experience working with crews. That can be a problem for their trainees, who need and rely on the guidance of trainers with real-life experience about how to plan and execute specific job tasks. Too many of these trainers lack a basic understanding of system grounding, distribution cover-up, and switching and tagging for employee protection. OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.269 standard was updated in 2014, and our industry’s trainers must know and train students in accordance with those regulations.  

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

April-May 2020 Q&A

Q: Recently we had an employee reference OSHA 29 CFR 1926.960(f) and 1910.269(l)(7), “Conductive articles.” The question is, can an employee work in an energized area while wearing jewelry, and earrings in particular? The rules discuss conductive articles such as watches, bands, rings and chains, but I do not see where it mentions earrings. 

A: When it comes to interpretation, it is good to confine a rule to the language used, but sometimes you also have to address the intent. The concern that drove the creation of this rule was whether jewelry, which is conductive, increases electrical contact risk. Those risks are twofold: (1) Does the jewelry make an electrical shock more likely, and (2) does the jewelry increase the damage or level of injury from an electrical contact? This rule does not fit well in the utility industry because its origin is the indoor electrical industry. Electricians rarely employ rubber gloves and were sticking their bare hands in energized panels in close quarters. Still, we can’t ignore the rule, but we can easily address it. As far as electric utilities are concerned, hands in close quarters to uncover bus or wire could cause a flash where jewelry goes to ground. You would get shocked anyway, but the jewelry could cause an arc flash, which increases injury levels with burned skin. That doesn’t really apply where we work unless your uncovered hands are in a meter can. The answer for either 1926 Subpart V or 1910.269 is in the wording of the rule, so look closely: “When an employee performs work within reaching distance of exposed energized parts of equipment, the employer shall ensure that the employee removes or renders nonconductive all exposed conductive articles, such as keychains or watch chains, rings, or wrist watches or bands, unless such articles do not increase the hazards associated with contact with the energized parts.”

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Behavioral Profiles: Use DISC to Predict and Adapt

Over the years, I have taught or sat through training sessions with thousands of people. Based on my experiences, I can unequivocally state that personality and leadership styles are the training topics that generate the most excitement and discussion among trainees, and the ones that inspire the most aha moments. Relatedly, the DISC profile is the single tool that I get the most positive feedback about – and the one that has had the most positive impact on people’s lives and careers.

This article, which is based on the DISC assessment that is offered through the Incident Prevention Institute (, will explain the value of the assessment, what is involved in undergoing the assessment, what you will receive after completing the assessment, and how to use the assessment as a personal and professional development tool. It is worth noting that there are many useful leadership, personality and behavioral assessments available that are similar to our DISC assessment. I highly encourage you to research them and take at least one.

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